NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A career criminal whose rap sheet includes bank robberies and a murder conspiracy was sentenced Wednesday to 16 years in prison for killing a New Jersey political consultant in exchange for money in 2014.
George Bratsenis, 74, pleaded guilty a year ago to a charge that he and another man accepted thousands of dollars from another political consultant, Sean Caddle, in exchange for killing Michael Galdieri. Galdieri was stabbed to death in his Jersey City apartment, which was then set on fire.
U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez imposed the 16-year sentence plus five years of supervised release on Wednesday in federal court in Newark.
A man who served time in a New Jersey prison with Bratsenis in the early 2000s, Bomani Africa, also pleaded guilty in the killing and was sentenced last month to 20 years. He named Bratsenis as the accomplice who helped kill Galdieri.
Revelations about Galdieri’s killing jolted political circles in a state infamous for dozens of political corruption convictions in recent decades and trickery like the 2013 “Bridgegate” scandal, which involved traffic jams purposely created near the busy George Washington Bridge for political retribution.
Caddle was well-known in northern New Jersey politics. His one-time clients included current Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and former Democratic state senator and gubernatorial candidate Raymond Lesniak.
Caddle’s plea agreement referred briefly and opaquely to him providing investigators with information, but didn’t say what. He pleaded to conspiring to commit murder-for-hire in January 2022 and hasn't been sentenced yet..The U.S. attorney’s office has declined comment, as has an attorney for Bratsenis.
Questions still surround the case over why the plot was put in motion, how Caddle was linked to the two ex-convicts, and why federal prosecutors have said so little about the crime.
Less mysterious is the depth and breadth of Bratsenis’s criminal past.
Bratsenis served in the Marines from 1968 to 1974, and then began racking up convictions in Connecticut and New Jersey for drug, robbery and weapons offenses.
In the summer of 1980, according to Connecticut authorities, Bratsenis conspired with a former Stamford police lieutenant and two other men to murder a reputed drug courier, David Avnayim, whose body was found in the trunk of a car west of New Haven.
Bratsenis wasn’t charged until four years later, but eventually pleaded guilty to murder conspiracy.
By the time he was charged with Avnayim’s murder, Bratsenis was already behind bars, the result of a conviction for robbing a jewelry store in Little Falls, New Jersey, in 1983.
While behind bars in New Jersey, he plotted an escape attempt in which he planned to hide a bag of drugs in his rectum and explode it during a court appearance, forcing authorities to take him to a hospital where gunmen would spring him, according to published reports at the time.
The plot was foiled and Bratsenis eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
By the late 2000s, Bratsenis was in Northern State Prison in Newark, New Jersey, having spent more than 25 years behind bars. It was there, authorities in Connecticut alleged in court filings, that he befriended Africa, from Philadelphia, and the two began planning to rob banks when they were paroled.
Also housed at the prison during that time period was James Caddle, Sean Caddle’s brother, although it’s not known whether he knew Bratsenis or Africa. James Caddle died in 2016, according to an obituary posted online.
After being released from prison, authorities said Africa and Bratsenis robbed two Connecticut banks in Darien and Trumbull in 2014, including one weeks before Galdieri’s killing. Africa robbed a third bank with another man in Stratford later in 2014, prosecutors said. Both Bratsenis and Africa pleaded guilty and were sentenced to eight and 10 years in prison for the robberies, respectively.